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Of Human Bondage

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951 pages15 hours

Summary

Generally considered to be W. Somerset Maugham’s masterpiece, Of Human Bondage follows Philip Carey, an orphan since age nine, as he grows up in a small town under the care of his aunt and uncle—a vicar who controls his inheritance.

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Of Human Bondage - W. Somerset Maugham

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Reviews

Maugham should have titled his masterpiece "Not Mildred Again." Mildred is the most horrible female excrescence I've encountered in classic lit since Madame DeFarge. My certainty that I knew what Mildred would do next, and horror of her reappearance to meet or exceed my expectations, kept me in a froth of dramatic irony that carried me breathless through the slow parts.

I should not have loved this novel as much as I did; I dislike the time period, dislike weak male protagonists who can't make up their minds, dislike early 20th century realism unless written by Wharton and set among the glitterati. . .but in spite of myself I love this novel. I credit Maugham's brilliant pacing. I was made to limp along with Philip Carey through his awful boyhood and worse twenties, and either had to bear with poor Philip or throw the novel against the wall. Maugham put me so thoroughly in Phil's hapless skin that there were no other alternatives.

Everything that makes a work a great classic is here. The Everyman (anti?)hero delivers on every level. Big questions are tackled. The sense of deja vu is pervasive; one would have to be very young and naive indeed not to feel it. If the happy ending rings a bit untrue--lurching from most bitter Steinbeck to most idyllic Cather in 50 pages or less--the reader has endured so much with Philip that it comes as a profound relief.
A tale of a young man's life which captures modern Western existence. Philip Carey, a middle-class but not wealthy orphan, grows to manhood. He has what appears to him a shameful disability (a club foot) which makes him shy. He prevaricates about his career and changes jobs several times due to inclination or changing circumstances. He falls in love with the wrong woman (and a few wrong women fall in love with him), causing him endless heartache and confusion. He tries to make sense of the world and develops his own philosophy. He lives the life of modern man, with choices (sometimes the illusion of choices) about love and work and money, mixed with non-choices forced by circumstance. Philip's tale is his own, but it is a universal one.
This book follows the life of Philip Carey as he tries to find his way in life. The take home message seems to be that God doesn't exist and that life has no set purpose so take things as they come and don't worry about it too much; you probably won't be able to change where your natural abilities and impulses push you anyways. I found Philip's behavior infuriating at times partly because of his stupidity and partly because I see some of my own past mistakes in it. The narrative itself is well written and enjoyable. Even at ~800 pages, the flow seems well paced. I agree with another reviewer that I would have gotten more out of the book if I read it at a younger age.
Although quasi-interminable, I really enjoyed this novel. With a strong tea and lots of time, I was able to dive into Carey's life: his passions, mistakes, character faults and qualities. Maugham warns us that his book is too long and could have been shortened but I rather enjoyed being able to immerse myself into this classic.
Loved this intimate portrait of the formation of the character of Philip Carey.
An excellent character study, following the life of Philip Carey from his mother's death when he is 9 to about his 30th birthday. His father has already passed away, and there is little money left, so he grows up with a much older uncle and his wife, in a rather bleak parsonage. Philip has a club foot, which contributes to a morbid self-consciouness that plagues him all his life.

Although middle class society of England between the wars" is an unfamiliar scene these days, the character of Philip rings very true. He wants desperately to be loved and accepted, but is very prickly and has the extreme self-absorption of the very shy at times, which keeps him from achieveing his goal. He's often "not quite". Clever, but not a genius. Artistic, but not truly talented. Kindly instincts, but with a vengeful streak.

Usually when people discuss the book or the film adaptations, they concentrate on his romantic obsession with the lower class waitress, Mildred. This is indeed a key element of the book. But there is a great deal more to the story of Philip's gradual maturation.

Well worth reading.
"
I'm usually pretty stingy about giving 5-star ratings, but I just really enjoyed this book. The end wasn't quite as excellent as I wanted it to be, but it's hard to complain. After reading this, I want to read more of Maugham's work. His style appeals to me.
A brutal story softened not by some sense of mercy, but by the author's clever lines.
I'm not sure I agree with it being the greatest novel of our time, but it WAS very good. Phillip is a boy who grows into a young man who seems to be spoiled & easily bored, & can't stick to one thing. Everything he does try, he fails at. Along the way, he has 2 very unhappy relationships, one with Norah, who loves him, but he doesn't love in return, & one with Mildred, who he loves, like a disease of the blood he can't shake, but who detests him but finds herself needing him. Along the way, he finally turns his hand to the long years of a doctor's training, but who has to quit in the middle of it for 2 years & take a job in a shop in order to keep himself together until his uncle, the Vicar, passes away & leaves him enough to go back & take up in his training where he left off. His friendship over the years with a character named Athelny & his family provides Phillip with the stability he needs in the worst part of his life. The ending was predictable, but still very sweet.Altogether, a very good read
Far be it for me to expound on the great literature of these seven hundred sixty pages.
Maugham should have titled his masterpiece "Not Mildred Again." Mildred is the most horrible female excrescence I've encountered in classic lit since Madame DeFarge. My certainty that I knew what Mildred would do next, and horror of her reappearance to meet or exceed my expectations, kept me in a froth of dramatic irony that carried me breathless through the slow parts.

I should not have loved this novel as much as I did; I dislike the time period, dislike weak male protagonists who can't make up their minds, dislike early 20th century realism unless written by Wharton and set among the glitterati. . .but in spite of myself I love this novel. I credit Maugham's brilliant pacing. I was made to limp along with Philip Carey through his awful boyhood and worse twenties, and either had to bear with poor Philip or throw the novel against the wall. Maugham put me so thoroughly in Phil's hapless skin that there were no other alternatives.

Everything that makes a work a great classic is here. The Everyman (anti?)hero delivers on every level. Big questions are tackled. The sense of deja vu is pervasive; one would have to be very young and naive indeed not to feel it. If the happy ending rings a bit untrue--lurching from most bitter Steinbeck to most idyllic Cather in 50 pages or less--the reader has endured so much with Philip that it comes as a profound relief.
I've read this several times over the years & it's still my favorite of all time!
This was a re-reading of an old favorite after many years. And surprisingly (or not!) I had a slightly different reaction to it now than when in my early 20s. With life's lessons behind me, I enjoyed it on a different level: not so much with heart as with mind. What jumped out at me this time - was how tremendously appropriate the title was to the contents. Think as hard as I could, I would have never come up with a more precise description of what one was to encounter in this masterpiece of a novel. "Of Human Bondage" - the phrase sums up the gist of it all. Phillip, the protagonist, goes through life agonizingly asking questions of himself and forming ideas about society, love, life's purpose (or lack of it), and his ever present physical handicap that influences him deeply on a psychological level. The range of his experiences is remarkably wide as he progresses through life, while exposing his often startling flaws as well as his good side. Events that happen make him reassess his ideas constantly. Until finally he reaches the understanding of a certain pattern of existence, the phases that one's life goes through, some totally unconnected, some in tune with each other. He also realizes that "the normal was the rarest thing in the world. Everyone had some defect of body or mind...". This kind of rumination is so characteristic of Maugham, and I love him for it. At the end, I breathed a sigh of relief for Phillip...
EM Forster once wrote: "The final test of a novel will be our affection for it, as it is the test of our friends, of anything else that we cannot define." Good point. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with this book. While it didn't win my affection, I will give Maugham some admiration for being able to capture and portray the essence of his characters so well. I absolutely despised Mildred and found Philip at time equally frustrating/infuriating. At least Maugham's writing style is geared towards the everday reader, which I found to be a bonus as nothing turns my mind off a novel faster than going all high-brow with elegant writing unless it fits with the story. [Of Human Bondage] is not an elegant story washed in filtered lighting. It has a directness to it that would be at odds with any flowery prose. I also found the story to be at times overly melodramatic, but my impatience with the melodrama was at part being fueled by my loathing of the whole Mildred/Philip scenario that just wouldn't end. Thank goodness for the entrance of Athelny and his family - which had me thinking about H.E. Bates' [The Darling Buds of May] - as a nice jolt of sunshine to what was becoming a rather dour read for me. I read the first 40% of the book as a e-read before flipping over to audiobook. This story definitely worked better for me in audio format - as do most of the classics I have tackled of late - so kudos to Crossley for managing to draw me back into a story that was doomed to be a long drawn out reading affair for me. What I didn't know until after I had finished reading the story is that Maugham wrote the manuscript when he was only 23 years old and was fresh out of medical school. I had read somewhere that some view [Of Human Bondage] to be the most autobiographical of all of Maugham's works but I had always assumed that the story had been written closer to its publication date when Maugham was in his mid to late-30's. Overall, I am glad to be able to cross this title off my "Classics still to read" list.
Years ago I had come across the movie of the book in only a segment. So many years later I decided maybe I should have a go at the book, considered a classic is some circles. The book is proclaimed to be a vague sense of autobiography as some elements are directly attached to Maugham's experience.I found the story somewhat interesting and took note of the messages it had to convey on life as many of us experience it. At stages many of us can certainly relate to what Philip Carey goes through in conditions and with people. The relationship with the primary antagonist Mildred gets a bit drawn as we observe the foolishness of his almost pathological devotion. Yet still haven't most of us been down that road to some extent with someone.The conclusion which drifted a bit into predictability was closed out I felt with a a couple of lines that best summed up what many if not most think we are after in life.
A novel about growing up, making choices and then having to live with those choices. Also a long exploration of unrequited love. Profound and moving.
An engrossing bildungsroman that I found hard to put down. I didn't think I'd enjoy a Somerset Maugham novel, so I was surprised by how good it was.It follows the life of Philip Carey from birth until he's around thirty. It's a long and sprawling story, which follows Philip through many careers and relationships.Apart from Philip's journey through life, there are a couple of deeper points: firstly that love can be something that keeps people in bondage, and secondly the big "what's the meaning of life". While I don't totally agree with Maugham's answers, these are interesting observations.
Very well written, very interesting subject (the struggle of the artistic protagonist against all sorts of harshness - not least, poverty) and very human.
What Maugham does in this book is something every author who has ever lived has striven to do. He has created a character in Philip Carey that is so vivid a reader cannot help but become attached to his every move. There was not a page (out of all 700 and some) where I did not care about Philip, or became bored with his life. As he tries to find his place in life, traveling around Europe in a variety of occupations and stations of life, all one can do is root him on, and hope for the best. The story is nearly flawless. Some of the secondary characters can become a bit trying on one's patience, but the vivacity of the story itself makes up for any shortcoming. I would recommend this book to anyone who wishes to lose them self in Edwardian England. You're in for a wonderful time!
Having seen both movie versions, I was surprised by the fact that almost a third of the novel involves Philip's childhood and young adulthood. In some aspects, I liked this part best especially the parts in Europe. Having the details of his background made his actions after he starts medical school more understandable and being raised by in a vicarage by his aunt and uncle explains the amount of religious musings. Personally I could have done without those religious musings but I suspect that having a major character who decides that he doesn't believe in God was still shocking in 1915.

Like life at its best, this book is long and sprawling, combining themes that inspired in me delight, curiosity, insight, frustration, melancholy, and revelation.Philip's tale, which mirrors Maugham's own life, is a journey I feel privileged to have shared. This is a long book and so something of an undertaking however I felt joy and satisfaction having just completed this book. There were parts of the book that I was bored and frustrated by however I am very pleased I stuck with it. This is the third book I have read by W Somerset Maugham, and follows Ashenden and Christmas Holiday which were both excellent. I am now intent on reading all his works. Unlike many of his contemporaries he wrote in a simple and accessible style, eschewing Modernist experimentation, and his books are all the better for it. I would not recommend this as a starting point for someone new to Maugham, however I now fully appreciate why many describe it as his masterpiece as it's touching, profound, and beautiful.
Of human bondage touched my heart more than it tickled my brain. It is so marvellously written that I can see it as a movie in my mind.

Philip's aunt made a permanent impression on me because her portrayal was real when she didn't know what to do with Philip or how to love him.

I especially remember Philip roaming in Paris with lawson and others where I can see the colour and smell of Paris.

I felt pity for Mildred because she could not help being indifferent to Philip just like he could not help loving her. Both Mildred and Philip got my sympathy because both were helpless due to their own limitations. Also, there was no deception in both of them. In the end both of them learned lessons of life.

I liked Philip because he was he. Being loved by children is the symbol of one's openness. Philip was certainly loved by Athenly's children. He was not pretentious. He was not a weakling. He was ambitious and had the guts to follow what he thought although he was an orphan and poor and deformed. There was no one to guide him yet he made his own path and at last reached a stable position, probably wiser than his friends.

Of human bondage is not a story of an orphan seeking freedom. It is a story of an orphan trying to find what is right for him by himself and finally succeeding in it. He started with his imaginations of freedom and all but when tackled with reality he was bruised. But he recovered through his intellect and judgement and at last he was good in every sense of the word.
I enjoyed an excellent audio version of this title. I have to say it was amazing. I loved this book. Maugham addresses the central issue of life - why are we here - and does a magnificent job illustrating his answer through the life of Philip Carey. Just an ordinary man with a physical challenge, Philip encounters the good and bad in life and reckons with it. The end is uplifting. I particularly enjoyed the sections with Philip in art school and the many scenes during the time of his uncle's death. Maugham has a gift in making Philip so perfectly human in his desires and dreams. A wonderful book!!
I have to give fair warning - this story is incredibly sad and slow. It is the story of club-footed orphan Philip Carey (whom you won't like very much) from the time of his birth until he becomes a married man. All of his life he he has been hindered by his deformity and maybe this is what makes him so nasty. You pity him at first and as a result probably one of the saddest scenes in the entire book is before Philip turns sour, when he is just a teenager. Philip is praying to God for a normal foot. He wants to run and play like all the other boys in preparatory school. He just wants to be normal. At school he had read passage in the Bible that led him to believe that if he just prayed long enough and honestly believed in God's work he would be healed of his deformity. Of course that doesn't come to fruition and he is bitterly devastated. Things turn from bad to worse when a so-called friend seeks the company of other boys. Philip's plight (like the plot) plods along painfully. Philip eventually leaves school to live in Germany for a time. He then goes to Paris to study art. By this time we are used to his callous ways. I personally started to tire of his selfishness and indifference to the people around him. I ended up not caring what happened to him.
But for the unnecessary length, I would have given this work 4 stars. The book is replete with interesting characters and experiences encountered by Philip, the protagonist, throughout his youth and early adulthood. It is a wonderful insight into the human condition, and particularly the perspective of the poor. Nonetheless, Maugham often digresses into amounts of detail that unfortunately lessen the impact of his work.
I reread this book recently and still found it a good book. One of the messages of the book is that you cannot know what poverty does with people until you have experienced it yourself. And you enjoy life so much more after that. I hope that I can enjoy life even more after rereading this book.
An excellent steady revelation of the human condition through the life of one, unextraordinary, young man. The pace is somewhat slow, but weaves a thorough picture that draws you in.
Breathtaking. Master of storytelling.
For the past few years, I have been trying to fill the gaps in my education by reading a classic book with my morning coffee. I don't generally write reviews of the classics I read. How is it helpful for one more person to write about how good Madame Bovary is? It might be more interesting to write about a classic I didn't like much, but I live in fear of sounding like those loser reviewers on Amazon who give one star to Faulkner because he's "bo-ring!"I just challenged myself to re-read Of Human Bondage, a dull, miserable, soul-deadening book, or so I remembered from my teens. What was I thinking? It's a great, page-turning story and a truly thoughtful work about a young man's pursuit of wisdom and happiness, hampered by physical and emotional disability. Philip Carey, born with a club foot and perhaps born with a congenital inability to believe himself loved, is often infuriating to the reader as he makes a series of questionable choices, including the Big One in the form of an odious woman with whom he falls in love. Many times during the narrative I wanted to yell out to the guy. Talk about emotional engagement! It's the opposite of dull.As with the last Maugham book I read, The Moon and Sixpence, there are a lot of questionable stereotypes in evidence: racial, ethnic, religious, and especially sexual. From these two books, Maugham strikes me as a true misogynist. The "bad" women in these books are horrifying, and the "good" women come across as disconcertingly bovine. Yet...what a read. It has jumped into my Top Ten Best Books Ever.
All novels contain dead wood, said W. Somerset Maugham, tedious sections that can be skipped without loss. Not so much this one. It proceeds from one interesting episode to another. Whether the protagonist is studying art in Paris or obsessing over an English tart, it gets on with the story. A very readable and enjoyable novel by a master story teller.